Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.
Finalizing a Purchase
The Tzemach Tzedek, one of the early Chabad Rebbes, provides a fascinating explanation of the supernal parallels to the seemingly mundane laws of commerce.
According to the Amora Reish Lakish, Torah law recognizes acquisition of moveable goods effected either by drawing the good into the buyer's domain, or by picking it up. The Amora Rebbe Yochanan rules that giving money also effects an acquisition according to Torah law, but by Rabbinic decree giving money does not finalize a bargain; if the good has not been handed over, the seller can give the money back or the buyer can ask to have his money returned (SA CM 198:1.
But this is considered bad-faith dealing - SA CM 204). The halakha is according to Rebbe Yochanan. Rebbe Yochanan also rules that purchases from non-Jews are not effected by money according to Torah law. (There is a dispute if we rule this way; see e.g. the commentaries on Rambam Zekhi'a 1:14.)
The Tzemach Tzedek points out that God is known as "The Master [koneh, meaning purchaser] of the heavens and the earth" (Bereshit 14:19), and goes on to explain how He effects this "acquisition".
The foundation for the Tzemach Tzedek's explanation is a widespread convention in Chasidut which distinguishes a particular process in our service of Hashem. The usual order is that first man has to arouse himself to a "lower awakening" (itaruta deletata) of longing towards God; this is then reciprocated by a "supernal awakening" (itaruta deleaila) whereby God showers us with His love and beneficence.
The process of bringing our spirits to Hashem brings with kesef - the word means "money" but also "longing". This longing initiated by man enables Hashem to "draw" our spirit upwards into the higher realms of holiness; this Divine response is the "drawing" of the object which according to Rebbe Yochanan typically follows the giving of money.
This drawing must be into the domain of the purchaser; drawing an object into the public thoroughfare is invalid (SA CM 198:9). The Tzemach Tzedek explains that our souls here below are in a world of separation and alienation, a "domain of the many". Our spirit becomes devoted to Hashem only when it is drawn out of this world into the "private domain" - literally, the domain of the one which we liken to the domain of the One.
The main insight is that "money effects an acquisition" - our longing for Hashem, our lower awakening, is enough to guarantee that our spirits will be borne aloft and be drawn to Hashem.
This is not the case with non-Jews. They too are able to attain closeness to Hashem, to be drawn aloft, but the process is not so automatic. The special love of Hashem to the Jewish people and our special spiritual aptitude means that our turning towards Hashem is certain to be reciprocated, but a non-Jew faces more obstacles. But for others, the "acquisition" or devotion of the soul is certain and irrevocable only after the "drawing" - the actual experience of Divine awakening.
The Tzemach Tzedek also points out that the Land of Israel is generally referred to in the Torah as the Land of Kenaan (Canaan). The word "Kenaani" (Canaanite) is likewise used often in Scripture as a synonym for merchant. This hints that the land of Israel is a particularly auspicious place to carry out this special kind of acquisition, this special "deal" between God and His people.
Based on Derekh Mitzvotekha pp. 72-74
Publication Update: Rabbi Meir's book on Jewish business ethics, The Jewish Ethicist, is now in print! It has also just been named "Book of the Month" on the shamash.org website. It is available through Ktav publishing house, or ask your local bookseller.
We are also in the final stages of preparing Meaning in Mitzvot for print; revisions and proofreading are completed and we are now putting together the index and other front and end matter.
Rabbi Meir authors a popular weekly on-line Q&A column, "The Jewish Ethicist", which gives Jewish guidance on everyday ethical dilemmas in the workplace. The column is a joint project of the JCT Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev; and Aish HaTorah. You can see the Jewish Ethicist, and submit your own Qs — www.jewishethicist.com or www.aish.com.